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Campbell corners collectibles

| Thursday, May 10, 2012, 11:58 p.m.

The 2004 Campbell Kids calendar that Patti Campbell, of Ligonier, has ordered is special. It's a limited edition that -- along with assorted ornaments, figures and other memorabilia just released by the Campbell Soup Co. -- marks the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of the Campbell Kids.

The centennial issue will be added to the 2,000 Campbell mementos she already has, with about 95 percent of them related to the Kids.

She just loves them.

Campbell said she is "100-percent Italian, and Scottish by otherwise," and she grew up in Jeannette as Patti Castellano.

So what's the connection?

"The Kids are just cute," she said. "They give you that warm and fuzzy feeling, and they melt your heart when you see them. And you get the soup, too."

On childhood Fridays, Campbell ate tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. She watched "The Howdy Doody Show" and "Lassie," sponsored by Campbell Soup, and sang the "M'm m'm good!" jingle. And she always felt that her "chubby cheeks" made her look like a Campbell Kid. She has the old family photos to prove that.

People noticed and remarked on that resemblance when she began collecting Campbell Kids 14 years ago. It all started with a soup mug.

"I think everybody has one of those," Campbell said.

She bought more items, met others who shared her enthusiasm and eventually became one of the founders of the Campbell Collectors Club International. Most members live in Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Canada .

The Campbell Kids were created by artist Grace Gebbie Drayton at the request of her husband, Philadelphia streetcar advertising executive Theodore Wiederseim, in preparation for a meeting with the Joseph Campbell Co., according to the company's Web site.

The company was founded in 1869 by Campbell, a fruit merchant, and Abraham Anderson, a icebox manufacturer. What initially was called the Joseph A. Campbell Preserve Co. revolutionized the canned soup industry in 1897 by introducing the first condensed products.

The Campbell Kids looked like Drayton's other popular characters -- Dolly Dingle paper dolls and comic strip characters Toodles and Pussy Pumpkin. They debuted on streetcar ads in San Francisco and, from the beginning, they were chubby, rosy-cheeked and dressed for their times.

"They had no names, no ears, no necks and no relatives," Patti Campbell said. "They still don't have names, but they have ears and necks now."

Their clothing changed from pinafores and pantaloons to more contemporary duds. The Kids used to do just kid things, mostly playing, but over the years they took on more adult roles, such as chef and firefighter. They've also slimmed down and, Campbell contends, "they aren't as cute as they used to be."

In the past century, there have been a variety of boys, girls and "some you can't tell" with blond, red and dark hair. Some have curls just like Campbell had when she was young.

Much of Campbell's collection is displayed at her bed-and-breakfast inn, the Campbell House, on East Main Street in Ligonier. If guests are named Campbell, they are served on tableware decorated with the Kids. Campbell also uses those pieces during the annual Highland Games and plays the "M'm m'm good!" song at mealtime.

One guest room is decorated with Campbell Kids things, and a bathroom is bordered with Campbell labels. The kitchen/office has shelves filled with plates, mugs, bowls and all kinds of tableware and flatware. The ceiling is decoupaged with labels. Campbell has cans, figures, napkins, serving items, PEZ dispensers, games and toys, including a little food mixer and a vacuum cleaner.

Some of the collectibles are ordinary, the kinds of things that people sent away for. Others are more unusual.

"My favorite is a 1910 Horseman doll that has its original clothes," Campbell said. "It's a stuffed doll, wearing cloth shoes and a pinafore with Campbell Kids around the neck."

That was made in the year her father was born. She was thrilled to get No. 44--the year of her own birth--in a calendar that was limited to 250 issues.

Campbell also treasures Campbell Kids hand puppets from "The Howdy Doody Show," which she keeps with her Howdy Doody doll. She has a sign board that was used in "5 and 10" store restaurants. That's rare, too.

"There are some things out there that are hard to get, like a carpenter set and a baby doll carriage," she said. "I've seen only one carriage in my life, and I think that the price went over $1,250."

Campbell never knows where she'll find something new to add. A recent guest from Pittsburgh told her that she was a fan of pop artist Andy Warhol, who first created his signature Campbell soup cans in 1962.

When asked why he did it, Warhol was quoted as saying, "I used to have the same lunch every day for 20 years."

The guest told Campbell that, in honor of Warhol and his art, she had a Campbell Soup can tattooed on her left cheek. "And she didn't mean her face," Campbell said.

Before the guest left, she asked Campbell if she wanted to take a picture of it.

Campbell did, and the photo is now part of her collection.

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